Question #3: What is the Girl Cartoonist Trap?
Submitted by Faith on August 5, 2009 - 15:32
I don't feel like working on anything at the moment, so let's blog:
Anonymous asked (paraphrased slightly): "What is the "girl cartoonist trap"?
Good question! I don't know. Next!
No, I'm kidding. I think I know, but others are welcome to chime in and give their opinions. I assume the Girl Cartoonist Trap comes from ideas put forth in the past that female writers and artists can only create work that is specifically feminine, and feminine in perhaps a stereotypical way. So, women can only write comics for women, stories for women, creations that male media consumers wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. Like the romantic comedy genre, before Judd Apatow got in there and blew it all to hell. I would assume avoiding the "girl cartoonist trap" is being a creator who can write for both genders. The creator who can write female characters that are not offensive to male readers, characters that are not so overtly, offensively stereotypically "feminine" in the traditional sense of the word.
I have never really thought about avoiding the Girl Cartoonist Trap. I've never specifically written comics that I knew would appeal to men, but I think perhaps I did unconsciously, because I have always identified more with men (in the sense that masculine includes assertiveness, action movies and Indiana Jones) in popular culture than women. Typically, the female characters I did fall in love with (Vesper Holly, Ripley, Clarice Starling), were written by men, and perhaps this influenced me.
The problem I have with specifically setting out to avoid the Girl Cartoonist Trap (now that I am aware of it) is that I think creators should create what they want, not what other people tell them to create or avoid. So if you are someone who is a very "girly" cartoonist, who wants to write steamy romance comics or comics about a hunky vampire who falls in love with a mortal girl, I don't see why you shouldn't. I mean, sometimes I feel like the concept of the trap is itself somewhat problematic, because it could be interpreted as contributing to the idea that a certain kind of woman's stories are not as worthy as an action movie. And maybe, from a literary standpoint, they're shit, but I don't think Twilight Lady is up at night angsting about how the literatti thinks she writes like crap. I know what *I* like. I like action movies. I want to be Indiana Jones. I want to be Han Solo, but I think if you want to be Princess Leia or Carrie from Sex in the City, that is your right and go for it. I think the explosion of manga has in some ways legitimized specifically feminine storytelling. I can't imagine Nana being pitched to a male audience, and every male reader who seems to review it online always prefaces his review with "Now I know I'm not the target audience for this book..." I got the same comments for The War at Ellsmere.
Speaking for myself, I do care very much about having a male audience, but I can't quite articulate why that is. I think it is mostly because I want a broad audience, and I want to write for as many people as possible. However, I don't feel that I've compromised the kind of stories I write to please a male audience. I think I tend towards a certain type of traditionally masculine storytelling because those are the stories I enjoyed growing up. Only with a female lead. I wanted Indiana Jones, but I wanted a girl Indiana Jones (later I got her, in the form of Vesper Holly). I want to write about nerds and supernatural stuff and have fight scenes and explosions and punk outfits. For some reason, these topics have traditionally fallen within the male sphere of storytelling in the past, but I feel like I've seen so many changes in comics and literature in the last few years, that everything is up for grabs.
So I say don't worry about the Girl Cartoonist Trap and write what's closest to your heart. If you're good, people will read it, regardless of gender.
Anyway, this is a huge discussion and I should really get back to work, so if others want to debate it, go for it.